Africa Day and the AU’s Year of Education: Prioritizing Foundational Learning for a Brighter Future

Africa Day and the AU’s Year of Education: Prioritizing Foundational Learning for a Brighter Future

By: Kirstin Buchanan

Each year, May 25 marks Africa Day – a time to celebrate the rich culture, traditions, and diversity of the continent and its people. As a member of the African diaspora raised in the Caribbean, Africa Day is an opportunity for me to celebrate the strong cultural identity and common heritage that intricately connect us and an important reminder that together, we can lay the foundations for a brighter future.

This year, the African Union declared 2024 the “Year of Education,” calling on governments to accelerate progress toward achieving regional and global education targets.

With nearly 90% of 10-year-olds in Sub-Saharan Africa unable to read and understand a simple text, this declaration brings renewed hope for unlocking Africa’s immense potential, emphasizing the critical role of education. For the Luminos Fund, it underscores the importance of our education mission: to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning.

Luminos student in The Gambia writes in his student workbook during class.

In The Gambia, Luminos student Ebrima practices his handwriting during class. Learning to write is a critical part of foundational literacy. (Photo: Lena Nian for the Luminos Fund) 

A Day of Celebration and Reflection

Africa Day commemorates the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963. Since its founding, the OAU, known today as the African Union (AU), has served as the pillar of regional cooperation, focused on achieving shared development goals and promoting peace and stability through unity. Africa Day has become a day of both celebration and reflection on the region’s progress toward these goals.

Education is a crucial piece of the puzzle on Africa’s path to continued prosperity. The Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25), adopted by AU heads of state and government, provides the framework for transforming education systems and equipping Africa’s youth to become agents of change for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The theme for the AU’s Year of Education, “Educate and Skill Africa for the 21st Century,” is a timely reaffirmation of these commitments. Multiple years of compounding crises, from pandemics to climate change, have reversed much of the continent’s progress in education and underscored the urgency for building more equitable education systems that are resilient to future crises.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in five primary-school-aged children are still out of school. Even beyond access, one in four children does not complete primary school, and most children enrolled in school are not learning. At most, only one in five children achieves the minimum proficiency level in reading upon completing primary education (UNESCO).

Prioritizing foundational learning for all children is one of the most important tools for addressing the learning crisis. With strong foundations in literacy and numeracy, children and youth are empowered to access a world of knowledge and ideas that will enable them to build higher-order skills and unlock pathways to improved livelihoods. For the most marginalized children, the ability to read, write, and do math builds belief in their own potential, resulting in the confidence and motivation to succeed in future learning environments.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Luminos is helping out-of-school children get a second chance at education. I fondly remember one of my first experiences entering a Luminos classroom in Ethiopia – students’ faces lit up with joy as they practiced counting play money through a song, sung to the tune of a local nursery rhyme. Throughout the room, an array of colorful artwork, including numbers and the letters of the alphabet, bring life to the otherwise barren thatch and bamboo walls. By focusing on joyful, foundational learning, we provide children with a safe and inclusive environment where they can feel comfortable and enjoy the learning process. This, in turn, helps develop a love of learning in students that continues well beyond their time in the Luminos program.

Indeed, this was the experience of Luminos alumna, Degnesh, who is now proudly enrolled in grade 4 at her local government school. After many years out of school, Degnesh enrolled in the Luminos catch-up program in 2021. There, she built foundational reading, writing, and math skills, as well as her love for learning.  “When I entered the Luminos classroom, I could not identify letters,” says Degnesh. “Now I’m reading at home and at school. The program made me love education.”

Luminos alumna Degnesh outside her classroom holding her school books.

Luminos alumna, Degnesh, says, “I was sad to leave [the Luminos program], but at the same time, I was very proud of myself. Now I have the attitude that I can achieve anything I want.” (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

Beyond the individual impacts, strong foundational learning systems serve as the cornerstone for building flourishing societies by promoting productive citizenship, sustainable development, gender equality, improved health, social cohesion, and stability. In the words of the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, “Investing in education is the greatest investment we can make in our common future, in peace, and sustainable development, and particularly in gender equality.

 A Critical Inflection Point

Addressing the learning crisis has long been an expressed priority for African governments. Many governments have endorsed the Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning, a global initiative launched at the 2022 United Nation’s Transforming Education Summit (TES), signaling their commitment to ensure foundational learning for all children and advance progress toward SDG 4 targets. The AU’s declaration of 2024 as the Year of Education presents an opportune, yet critical moment for governments to further build on these commitments and prioritize foundational learning in national policy agendas.

African governments and ministries of education can chart a path to a brighter future for generations to come by investing in strengthening education systems. While this takes many forms, evidence-based strategies include prioritizing implementation of structured pedagogies and instructional methods, ongoing teaching development and coaching, and robust monitoring and evaluation.

In addition to strong political leadership, substantial collaboration will be required.

SDG 4: Quality Education

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Targets:

  • 4.1 Free primary and secondary education
  • 4.2 Equal access to quality pre-primary education
  • 4.3 Equal access to affordable technical, vocational and higher education
  • 4.4 Increase the number of people with relevant skills for financial success
  • 4.5 Eliminate all discrimination in education
  • 4.6 Universal literacy and numeracy
  • 4.7 Education for sustainable development and global citizenship
  • 4.8 Build and upgrade inclusive and safe schools
  • 4.9 Expand higher education scholarships for developing countries
  • 4a Increase the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries

Education leaders and experts from Ethiopia, Ghana, and The Gambia during an inter-ministerial exchange facilitated by Luminos in Ethiopia. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund) 

Through my experience at Luminos, I have learned that there is power in unity – no one country can solve the learning crisis alone. This notion of strength in unity was the impetus for a recent inter-ministerial exchange facilitated by Luminos, which convened a range of education leaders and experts from Ethiopia, Ghana, and The Gambia for a series of discussions on advancing foundational learning in Sub-Saharan Africa. This power in unity is also the very pillar on which the African Union was formed.

 This Africa Day, let us celebrate the unity and collaboration that has paved the way for the continent’s progress to date. Let us also unite in our commitment to work together to unlock the light of learning in every child through joyful, foundational learning, so they may bring to fruition the AU’s aspirations to transform Africa into the global powerhouse of the future.

Kirstin Buchanan

Kirstin Buchanan is the Communications and Advocacy Manager at the Luminos Fund where she amplifies student voices and program stories, in addition to helping drive content, messaging, and fundraising strategy. Kirstin leads the development and implementation of the communication strategy relating to the organization’s advocacy and government engagement work. She also leads engagement with the Luminos Fund Advisory Board.  

Five Tips to Build Effective Global-Local Partnerships

Five Tips to Build Effective Global-Local Partnerships

While the international development world is committed to putting more resources in the hands of local partners, the question remains: how does it work best in practice?

Local partners (what Luminos refers to as our “community partners”) have been a core part of the Luminos Fund’s high-impact learning program from the beginning. In our global-local model, our programs are co-created and co-implemented with our community partners. Through many years of experience, we have honed an approach to deliver our transformative education programs efficiently and effectively with and through our community partners, combining international best practices with deep local expertise and creativity.

Here are five tips from the Community Partners element of the Luminos Method for building effective partnerships.

%

of community partners reported that Luminos’ approach to capacity building was “great” and that partners’ staffs were providing the technical resources necessary to work more effectively and efficiently

1. Align on Leadership, Mission, and Values

Do: Ensure your partnerships reflect your values just as much as the program itself. For example, we take a joyful learning approach in the classroom and with our partner interactions.

Q

Don’t: Assume that the same leadership or operational style will be suitable for all partnerships, regardless of their specific cultural context or organizational values.

“We chose Luminos because it matched with who we are as an institution. We do things differently around foundational literacy and numeracy, and we want to use data to measure progress. We also want to improve the community. In Luminos, it was the first time we saw a partner that encompassed wholly our interests and approach.”

Benjamin Freeman, Executive Director of LIPACE, a Luminos community partner in Liberia

2. Solve Problems Nimbly and Proactively

Do: Take a quick, proactive problem-solving approach in the face of unexpected challenges during program implementation. Though we have standardized many elements of the program over the years, we must remain nimble and ready to think creatively with our partners in the face of operating challenges.

Q

Don’t: Ignore the insights and problem-solving capabilities of your community partners by adhering rigidly to your processes and overlooking opportunities for mutual learning.

“We came on board having our own processes and opinions about how you go about doing the work. But as we worked alongside Luminos, we saw that they knew what they were doing and that there was so much we could learn in working side by side.”

Kirk Anderson, Executive Director of Link Community Development, a Luminos community partner in Ghana

3. Communicate Often and Quickly

Do: Take a “high-touch” approach to communications through WhatsApp, Slack, by phone, or in person. Whether it is the timely answering of text messages, showing up to important community meetings, or returning phone calls, partner responsiveness is an important value.

Q

Don’t: Expect successful outcomes without fostering a communication environment that facilitates a swift and collaborative response to changing needs and situations.

“When we are both so closely following the work, it means that most of the time we get to the problem at the right time and have a solution in place before it’s too late to change.”

Hagirso Desta, Executive Director, EECMY-DASSC, a Luminos community partner in Ethiopia

4. Prioritize Learning Outcomes

Do: Use real-time data to help community partners learn and adjust along the way, sharing data with partners via data dashboards or learning sessions to serve as a guide for any classroom adjustments.

Q

Don’t: Implement data-gathering requirements without explaining their purpose and sharing the results with community partners to invite their input and creative problem-solving.

“All their analysis really helps improve implementation. Each year, this brings to us new and additional knowledge to our approach that makes the work better for the children and the staff.”

Hagirso Desta, Executive Director, EECMY-DASSC, a Luminos community partner in Ethiopia

5. Create a Safe Environment for Candid Feedback

Do: Take the first steps to build a culture of trust and transparency by creating clear and open communication channels, in both directions, on an ongoing basis. This can include multiple formal and informal processes, from surveys and learning sessions to regular check-ins. Commit to being responsive to the feedback received.

Q

Don’t: Create an atmosphere where partners may feel hesitant to share honest feedback due to concerns about jeopardizing the partnership.

“We have to demonstrate that we really mean it when we ask for feedback and that partners can trust us to receive it well.”

Ernesta Orlovaitė, Luminos Fund, Director of Impact​​

Learn more in the Community Partners element of the Luminos Method!

Yousef: Finding Refuge and Hope in the Classroom | Lebanon 

Yousef: Finding Refuge and Hope in the Classroom | Lebanon 

Joyful, bright-eyed, and brimming with hope for the future. These are just a few words that describe 9-year-old Yousef. 

Despite having to overcome several challenges at a young age, his optimism shines brightly. Yousef was an infant when his family fled their home in Syria and settled in Lebanon. As he grew, his education was postponed because his parents could not afford to enroll him in school. Despite these obstacles, this aspiring pilot continues to dream big.  

In Lebanon, Luminos works closely with two community-based organizations, reaching more than 7,000 children like Yousef to date — providing a safe, welcoming environment where students can catch up on foundational skills and develop their full potential. 

After successfully completing the Luminos catch-up program, Yousef transitioned into public school to continue his education. 

“Education is important because it helps me in the future to get a job and be an independent and effective member in society.” 

Yousef, Luminos alum

“Education is important because it helps me in the future to get a job and be an independent and effective member in society,” Yousef says. “I want to reach university level and get a degree in aviation.” 

Yousef with his mother, Watfa. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund) 

But Yousef’s path to lifelong learning — and aviation — is not an easy one. As a result of teacher protests over salaries, public schools in Lebanon have faced significant disruptions and closures. The country has endured a series of ongoing social, economic, political, and health crises in the past few years, which have created a dire situation for children, especially the Syrian refugee children Luminos serves. Due to a nationwide economic crisis, prices of basic goods have skyrocketed, and many families have limited access to electricity, which substantially restricts the delivery of basic services.  

“Life has become hard and complicated,” says Yousef’s mother, Watfa. “The electricity and many other problems made Yousef feel sad. I am worried about everything, especially not being able to afford my children’s basic necessities.”  

Today, through an additional Luminos program, Yousef is receiving homework support for math and English (English is one of the two standard languages of instruction in Lebanon). His motivation for learning grows more and more each day. 

“I love my classmates and my teachers,” says Yousef. “After classes, I usually revise my lessons and then I get ready to go to the public school in the afternoon schedule.”  

Colorful posters and letters of the alphabet decorate classrooms in Lebanon. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)

According to his teacher, Amal, Yousef has shown significant improvements and is thriving as a self-confident, intrinsic learner.  

“Yousef usually interacts with the pictures shown in stories and connects them with his surroundings. He has proved to be an independent learner. He answers and solves the questions individually,” says Amal.  

By providing a safe and nurturing space to learn, Luminos programs help mitigate the devastating impact of compounded crises and school closures.  

Beyond learning, our classrooms offer a sense of stability and hope — not only for our students, but their teachers and parents, too.  

“Hope has motivated us to curb pessimism. This hope is reflected in the students’ faces. When we see the learners’ diligence and interest in discovering knowledge, our confidence in the coming days is boosted.” 

Amal, Luminos teacher

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Lebanon program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Chris Trinh

Emmanuel: A Family Steps on the Path to Education in Liberia 

Emmanuel: A Family Steps on the Path to Education in Liberia 

On a bustling government school campus in Liberia, students on their lunch break fill the air with loud and lively conversation.

Tucked away from the midday sun under the cool shade of a corridor, a Luminos alum named Emmanuel shares his story. At 15 years old, Emmanuel has achieved something remarkable: he’s made it to the eighth grade after being out of school for nearly a decade. And he has no plans of stopping.

“I’d like to go and continue my education past high school — go to college, and get a degree in medicine,” he says.

These big dreams and achievements are possible because Emmanuel attended Luminos’ catch-up education program four years ago. Inside a joyful, interactive classroom, Emmanuel learned how to read, write, and do math for the first time.

“I’m proud to be in school and learning because they teach us, and we can learn, and then take it home to our parents.”

Emmanuel, Luminos alum

“I like school because education is a powerful tool and the key to everything,” he explains.

Emmanuel’s mother, Josephine, marveled at the pace at which he was learning.

“They were learning really fast,” she says. “And he’s still progressing. The program helped him a lot. I’m proud that he can read and write.”

Emmanuel and his fellow Luminos alum, Princess, stand with their former Luminos teacher, Varney.

Josephine, who had to drop out of school after first grade, saw the Luminos program as an opportunity to ensure Emmanuel’s future would be different from her own.

When Josephine learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program, she knew it was a second chance to help her son learn, grow, and gain the tools he needed to succeed — and the first step for their family into the world of education.

In the Luminos classroom, Emmanuel discovered his passion for math, which quickly became his favorite subject.

“Everything in math is my favorite — subtraction, percentages, addition,” Emmanuel says.

When Emmanuel completed the Luminos program, he was equipped with strong foundational learning skills and transitioned into fourth grade at his local government school.

One of Emmanuel’s current teachers, Robert, was amazed at the differences between Luminos alumni like Emmanuel and other students. Luminos students were better behaved, able to concentrate for longer periods, could pronounce words correctly, and were much more likely to volunteer — especially to read in front of the class.

“They were learning really fast. And he’s still progressing. The program helped him a lot. I’m proud that he can read and write.”

Josephine, mother of Luminos alum Emmanuel

“Emmanuel is especially good at math,” Robert notes, observing that while other students will count using their fingers, Emmanuel is able to do mental math quickly. Robert says that, even during breaks, Emmanuel can often be found in the classroom running his friends through math problems on the blackboard.

“It helped me,” says Emmanuel of the Luminos program. “Before I didn’t know math, and now I know math and I’m on the Middle School Academic Team!” As a member of his school’s Academic Team, Emmanuel participates in quiz competitions where he excels at answering math questions.

“I’m proud to be in school and learning,” says Emmanuel, “because they teach us, and we can learn, and then take it home to our parents.”

In addition to bringing knowledge home to his family, Emmanuel dreams of improving his community.

“I want to see my community get better. I want to see water pumps and a market every day. I want to be a doctor because a doctor helps other people.”

Meet Emmanuel’s Former Luminos Teacher: Varney

Varney, now a supervisor of Luminos classrooms, was Emmanuel’s teacher in 2019 when Emmanuel attended the Luminos program.

“Emmanuel was very smart,” Varney recalls. Varney is not surprised by Emmanuel’s continued love of math, noting that Emmanuel helped as his teacher’s assistant in mathematics. Varney still comes to check on his former Luminos students on their government school campus.

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Liberia program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya’s first reaction upon entering her Luminos classroom was awe — she thought it was beautiful.

The humble building dedicated to learning was a beautiful sight in Suraiya’s eyes because it represented a long-awaited opportunity to join her peers in an environment that had always been out of reach.

“I had never stepped in one before,” Suraiya says wistfully. At age 12, Suraiya had never been to school. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, where Suraiya and her family live, it is all too common for children to miss out on education. Nearly 23,000 primary-school-aged children in Ashanti are out of school.

In 2022, Luminos officially launched in Ghana to give out-of-school children in the Ashanti region a second chance at education. Suraiya was one of 1,500 children enrolled in Luminos’ classrooms.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can.”

Ramatou, Suraiya’s mother

Suraiya and her mother, Ramatou, used to work together on the family’s charcoal farm to make a living — Ramatou did not have the money to send Suraiya to school. Every day, Suraiya would accompany her mother to a plot of land in the forest, cut down wood, and burn it into charcoal to sell.

During a reading lesson, one of Suraiya’s classmates answers a question.

Through the free Luminos program, Suraiya quickly began learning how to read, write, and do math.

English is her favorite subject, but Suraiya also enjoys learning addition and singing along with her teacher, Adams. Suraiya admires Adams and appreciates the way he helps her learn.

“When he teaches, I understand,” says Suraiya. “He has been telling me that I will do well in the future.” With her teacher’s encouragement, Suraiya feels inspired about her learning progress. “I want to be brilliant!” she declares.

Suraiya’s mother also notices her growth.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can,” says Ramatou.

Ramatou is not able to read or write, but she can see Suraiya’s progress as Suraiya brings home materials to practice reading aloud. Suraiya also shares what she learns in the Luminos program with her siblings and the neighborhood children that come to her for help.

Adams leads his class, including Suraiya (third from the left), in a warm-up activity before class begins.

“She helps them to read,” beams Ramatou.

Suraiya was steadfast in her attendance during the school year, believing education will help her become a better person in the future. After completing the Luminos program among the top three students in her class, Suraiya is advancing into the local government school. She dreams of continuing her education all the way through college and becoming a nurse.

“I will become a nurse and bring pride to my parents,” Suraiya declares. “I will come and take care of the sick here.”

“I want to be brilliant!”

Suraiya, Luminos student

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

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+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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